Putting on the Ritz

By Diana R. Oreck

An executive for a luxury hotel discusses how banks can extend legendary customer service.

There is no magic bullet to creating unique, memorable and personal customer experiences. Providing legendary service is part science, part art. Great service is tricky because it is highly nuanced, it’s all about psychology, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. What is for certain is that, as consumers, we can all relate to service. As much as every industry thinks that it is different when it comes to service, it really is not. Service is service regardless of what industry we might be dealing with.

When we receive great service, we know it. It feels like poetry in motion, a choreographed ballet. When we do not receive it, it feels like something out of a Stephen King horror story. Service is all about the emotions of the recipient of your service.

If you aspire to create a customer-centric culture, it does start with having the right mind- set. Things to consider:

  1. Customers do not like to be treated in a transactional

In a hotel, guests do not want to feel like just another “head in the bed.” When dealing with financial institutions, customers do not want to feel like just another deposit, withdrawal or loan. In a hospital, we do not want to feel like just another procedure. With insurance companies, we do not want to be treated like just another insurance policy. Customers can tell immediately if we do not genuinely care about their well being.

At The Ritz-Carlton, we believe that human relationships always precede financial results. Relationships of trust are critical in banking. Do your customers trust you without reservation? Do they believe that your financial advisers have their best interests at heart always? Are financial advisers being proactive and calling clients about market conditions before their clients call them? The most important word in service is “always,” because it leads to consistency, which leads to trust. Trust with clients, supervisors, employees, family and friends. There are no companies that have become famous for service that only extend it once in a while. Can your customers count on anticipatory service always?


  1. Be aware that you cannot extend legendary service if you or your employees are on automatic pilot.

When we do not stay in the moment or are asleep at the switch and distracted, we do not pick up on the clues customers are giving us on the phone or in person. Being on auto-pilot can lead to very embarrassing situations such as:

  • A wealth management customer is coming in to the office to consult with his financial adviser. The adviser had a curry lunch at his desk and the curry smell lingers on.
  • Sending financial documents to the name of a customer who has been deceased for many years.
  • Alerting a customer that his or her bank account is overdrawn, and it is not the right family member.
  • A customer needs to sign a check, and there are no pens available.


  1. Remember, to customers feelings are facts.

When your customers are done dealing with you or an employee on the phone (a window into the soul of your company) or in person, how do they feel emotionally? Delighted, neutral, underwhelmed, enraged? Every single employee holds your brand in the palm of his or her hand. With every interaction with a customer, he or she can either enhance your brand or tarnish it.


  1. Do not be afraid to empower your employees.

If employees are not empowered to delight customers or resolve issues, you do not tap into their discretionary effort to go above and beyond and create unique, memorable and personal experiences, not to mention customers for life.

You create unique, memorable and personal experiences when you authentically connect with customers. This means that you do not come across as scripted and robotic.

The great news is you do not need to be The Ritz-Carlton to do this. You can be in the bank, the shop, the gas station, the hospital, anywhere. You do need to stay in the moment, with your radar on and antenna up. This means you have your eyes and ears open and are actively seeking opportunities to surprise and delight your customers. It can be as easy as looking at documents carefully and noticing a date of birth. If the customer’s birthday is coming up or it just passed, mention it.

Most of our parents taught us The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. That is very nice but practicing The Platinum Rule—Treat others the way they wish to be treated—is more powerful and appreciated. You can do this by having your radar on and antenna up. Is your customer in a hurry and does not wish to engage in rambling chitchat? Conversely, is one of your customers a lonely senior who would love nothing more than engaging in extended conversation?

  • The quickest ways into people’s hearts is through their grandchildren, children and pets. Are you familiar with your customers’ families so that you can send congratulations at milestone events such as graduations and anniversaries? Do not forget a birthday card for Rex, the St. Bernard either! If your bank provides pet insurance, you have access to Rex’s birth date. What about providing dog treats for customers who bring their dogs into the branch or through the drive-through teller?

Aim to be masters and mistresses of anticipation. The one thing none of us has enough of is time. Every person, whether young or old, rich or poor, has 86,400 seconds in a 24-hour period. The only thing we cannot give back to our customers or each other is time. People seem very wired, tired and stressed. Think about how you can save your customers time. Is doing business with you hassle free, quick and simple? Things to think about:

  • Can customers’ questions be answered 24/7?
  • Is your website easy to navigate, and is it fast?
  • Do you have empowered employees who are able to solve problems quickly without running to a manager and without retaliation?
  • How many calls must your customer make and how many people must he or she speak to for a problem to be resolved? First-person problem resolution is critical. If employees have to run and get a manager for permission, they are not empowered. This wastes your customer’s time and annoys him or her at the same time.
  • Do your ATMs work well and are not constantly out of service?
  • Do your employees provide fast access to knowledge and wisdom?

I find that many organizations and people over-analyze legendary service. It can be boiled down to the four C’s: common sense, common courtesy, showing care and concern. Let’s all be like Nike and “Just do it!” If you and your employees can execute the four C’s consistently … that is money in the bank!


Diana R. Oreck is vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, Chevy Chase, Md., which offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Email: [email protected]

IDENTIFICATION OF TOP PHOTO: Diana Oreck is the vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, Chevy Chase, Md.”